To most the sky is the limit, To those who love aviation, the sky is home. – Anonymous
I am no science buff. In the most ordinary way I write this to wonder how in extraordinarily ways my brain chooses to remember random memories of my childhood so well. So vividly I can remember the weather, the smells and the sounds all associated with that very moment. All this when I cannot remember my algebra formulas or the study of spirogyra filaments and mitosis, leaving my academically favoured sister in much amusement and myself in bewilderment when she decides to debate with me. Not even my school functions, not my birthday parties or favourite movies or even moments at school or the first crushes but just random memories of places and things. Or maybe not so random now that I have much time on my hands during a lockdown to ponder over them. Like they say sometimes these very random memories are meant to be part of our lives.
Jump back into the 90s with me. The country I was born in was still at the cusp of development and about to become one the biggest hubs of the region. I was the age of cuteness, pig tails and sensitive health that everywhere I went I needed to be rushed into or rushed out of, bundled tightly into fluffy jackets that came with a mandatory hood for my head and bundled up like a Christmas gift with no steady shape complete with a bow under my chin to ensure the hood didn’t fly off.
“Where would you like to go this weekend?”, dad asked me. Where weekends where I was born in come on a Friday. “The park or the airport?”, he asked again. For a kid at maybe five or six years of age and a girl (sorry women) I was spoiled for choice you might think. But then, I was an aviation geek that young and “the airport! “, I screamed with excitement. What followed next I don’t remember. I don’t remember preparing ourselves for the longer than usual road trip to this out of the city airport nor I remember where we may have parked our vehicle and back then enjoyed the facilities such as “free parking at the terminal for as long as you liked “or the fact that non travelling persons with no ID check were allowed to roam around the terminal and watch loved ones or not so loved ones complete formalities right until passport control with a customary turn back,wave and smile to the one who dropped you or a sign of relief from the one who dropped you . The world was safer back then. Happier days.
But I remember entering the cold terminal building. As kids, my sister and I would be amused with the strong draft of air-conditioning air that would at times blow up our dresses and make us giggle silly right by the automatic doors. Two huge cascading bifurcated stairs on either side right in the centre of the terminal building, lead you to the first level equally cold and bare. It was a long hall mainly meant for airline offices and airport officials and a dedicated area with long leather sofas and a few tables attached to a café that gave the floor its whiffs of freshly brewing coffee from time to time. Not many would use this area, not many appreciated the panoramic views of the ramp and the majestic birds with their finest livery back in the 90s. The café though remained open 24 hours. It was one of those few places I remember in my childhood where I wondered why coffee screamed out of a machine with a loud shrill and puffed out smoke like an angry animated character.
The world was safer back then like I mentioned. My parents were in their own conversations making sure from time to time I didn’t wander far or roll my face on the cold leather seats of the couch to feel the chill on my skin (sensitive health baby, did I mention?) and I was in my own world for most of it, staring at the aircrafts, enjoying the movements of pushback , getting amazed at the roaring takeoffs and amused with the vibrations of the building every time an aircraft landed. All these minute details I remember oh so well, but my brains can’t trace how bored my sister must have been in this forced outing and what she may have done to pass the time. But for me and that view and my head sticking to the glass panels with big eyes and a sniffled nose, time stood still. Even today I can stare with wonder at aircrafts at any airport from any given little window opportunity or from any of the large panoramic panels of airport lounges and get immersed for hours and sometimes if not often click a picture or two.
My heart always belonged and always will belong to the aviation industry and I will always fall in love with an aircraft and the idea of flying. However, here is my catch 22. I have hated turbulence and may possibly be the only aviation enthusiast who trembles during turbulence. All the excitement of boarding, running past my parents in the air bridge and bargaining with my father that despite the fact that I will hold his hand tight during air pockets and dark thick clouds, that he would suggest not to look out at, I still want to enjoy the window seat. I did this ritual till my late teens and eventually decided to woman up and face turbulence alone because adulting involved taking trips solo. But the clouds still in a snarkily manner make their presence known specially during the meal service. Day flight or night flight. Or all flights. Yet I still insist, window seats are my thing and my thing only.
I have myself to blame as childhood vacations involved flying back to the birthplace of my parents that coincided with the peak of monsoons or the peak of rain cloud season. The rides were and are always bumpy. Its hard to enjoy a glass of juice or a piping hot cup of coffee without fearing a drop or two leaving an imprint on your special pants that you kept aside days in advance for the trip, washed and ironed to make a good impression because mother always said, never get caught in a nasty situation with dirty laundry.
Till this day I am excited of exploring new and frequented airports, boarding procedures , checking out seat features on those lucky times I was blessed to fly business, the meal service and inflight entertainment choices. I still cringe at the babies crying (at least I am being honest about it unlike some of us) and God help me if I find myself on an aircraft with no personal entertainment screens and a hell of a bumpy ride. But I still remember holding the hands of my father tightly as he slept through turbulence with ease ,while I prayed with each drop through an air pocket. I find descending into an old city or new still exciting. And much more excited when the seat belt sign is switched off, but I hate leaving an aircraft. Oh the things we aviation enthusiasts these days must be craving for, because for us the sky is home.
Today as the industry suffers the consequences of the pandemic lockdowns all over the world, my heart aches. My heart aches with the almost daily news of job losses, salary cuts, passenger rate decline, retirement of crowned aircrafts and the overall joy of flying being lost. Scenes of safety checks at every corner for our good no doubt and meals served in doggy bags instead of the trays and fine cutlery and amenity kits that include sanitizers and masks , though again all for our good , hurt me. A tremendous feeling of loss to someone for whom this industry is so close at heart. Though I didn’t manage to become a part of the industry in my actual career path, this 90s kid is proud to call herself an aviation geek today and yes I can talk aviation with a glow on my face anytime.
As for now, one can only hope that flying returns to normal soon, when we can get a whiff of aviation fuel without a mask and almost dressed like astronauts, when we will be able to greet airline crew that don’t look like travelling paramedics , that glorious airline food will not be in take out bags and boxes and airports will no longer bare a haunted look and lastly the roaring of engines which is music to my ears will be heard again.
Today as I look out of my windows, lock downed in that same country with the raging monsoon winds and the notorious looking clouds as they bring down rain in a rage, I still think to myself oh what fun it would be to fly through them now. What fun it would be to let those clouds get to me and let myself be again, troubled by turbulence.